Tag Archives: Life

Thoughts from Mozambique

I hurriedly stumbled out of the hotel with a carry-on bag rumbling across the tile floor behind me, and my fake rust-colored Ray-Bans hanging on the bridge of my nose. Shuffling through my papers, I located my boarding pass and passport. After 10 days on 4 hours of sleep per night, I was flying from Maputo, Mozambique back home to Washington.

A boy with a wooden carving stood outside of the hotel, eagerly awaiting my exit. As I brushed past him to my motor pool, he simply said, “sir, please…” as he extended his arms forth to display a wooden carving.

A lot of kitsch re-sellers loiter about this part of town. They know individuals that come to Mozambique for business or pleasure typically stay at the hotels along the Indian Ocean. They know these tourists have a large appetite for mass-produced and useless keepsakes. I was not an exception, carrying a couple small-carvings I had picked up for my mother, sister, and brother.

I felt terrible as I passed the boy, explaining that I was late and sorry but was not going to purchase his carving. My motor pool had been waiting for 20 minutes passed the time I was supposed to be there, and needless to say the driver who was usually very jovial (and on this occasion happened to be wearing an Obama 2012 t-shirt and fake Ray-Bans) was not pleased by my tardiness.

I jumped in the SUV and was transported to the airport. The driver turned on the radio – “Live your Life” by T.I. Ft. Rihanna was to be the soundtrack of this drive. As we drove through the city, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between what I saw here and what I had seen in Cape Town South Africa. Small cinder-block shacks, smashed together by the dozens. Tin roofs, dirt roads, and a severe lack of basic infrastructure. The words “VODAFONE” in bright red emblazoned across the concrete walls which sectioned the city blocks.

We drove past some intersections which reminded me a lot of Afghanistan. In fact, the look and feel was similar to that of Afghanistan, minus the severe concerns for safety at all times. Some roads paved, some roads dirt. Small shops uniformly facing the busy roadways, shopowners seated next to their merchandise waiting for passers-by.

I realized this isn’t unique. This is a lot of the world.

Not to paint an imperfect picture, the previous day I spent wandering the streets of downtown Maputo, and I don’t think I saw a single unpaved road. The downtown area is compact and bustling; and the Ministry of Culture/Tourism is definitely doing its part to encourage tourism by installing museums, statues, and other things to see around the city. I happened to aimlessly wander into the National Currency Museum where I saw… a US million dollar note. I couldn’t determine if it was supposed to be a joke.

Foreign and locally owned cafes and restaurants appear at every corner and the recent surge in appearance of rickshaws has surprised many – including the locals. There’s an evident divide between certain parts of the city and others. Visiting the city’s town hall, I could barely remember I was even in Mozambique.

I arrived at the airport, checked in, and headed for the Business Class lounge. Somehow through booking my ticket, the Busines Class flight to South Africa en route home was the same price as Economy. Naturally, I opted for Business Class. It is truly rare the amount of times I’ve been in a Business Class lounge, and I don’t know if it is due to my predispositions or if it is truly the case, but the vibe I feel upon entry in any Business Class lounge is arrogant and overpaid. I’m always looked at strangely in this environment, I look young and obviously like I don’t belong. I dislike that depending on how much you (or your company) pays, you can enjoy the luxuries of Business Class travel while traveling mothers with children have to tough out the typically crowded boarding gates; this is Capitalism after all. I digress.

Soon after we boarded the plane, a woman came to sit in the seat next to mine. Promptly after being seated she took out her Bose headphones and iPad. I figured she was a tourist from South Africa. A lot of tourists from South Africa come to Maputo for their vacation. I saw them all around the touristy parts, and they were always open to impromptu discussion.

The plane rocketed into the sky, and as always, I sat in my specifically requested window seat. I am ceaselessly amazed by the gargantuan cotton puffs of cumulus as seen from the window of an airplane. As we hovered above Maputo en route to South Africa, I couldn’t help but think about the overwhelmingly friendly demeanor of the vast majority of Mozambicans I met. It is a country dominated by a friendly culture- from what I noticed in my very short stay. I’m pretty sure I met some of the cutest people in the world while I was there.

I also couldn’t help but contrast the luxury of Business class to the poverty I witnessed on my way to the airport. I’ve come to realize I dislike the mindset that wealth seems to generate. Let me explain:

1) Exposure to a certain environment for long enough alters your thought processes to fit said environment. I have absolutely 0 credential in making that claim – but it seems to make logical sense. Thoughts and discourse, or even bar room banter, of someone living in Alaska could not possibly mirror those of someone living in Saudi Arabia. There may be overlap, but the approach to ideas and topics would be shaped by culture, religion, environment, etc. I think a parallel could be drawn between consistent exposure to luxurious environments and exposure to poverty-stricken environments. You may talk about similar things, but your entire approach and viewpoint are completely different.

“We walk the same path, but got on different shoes, live in the same building, but we got different views” – Drake. He actually has a point.

2) Wealth enables you to physically distance yourself from the context of poverty/lack of wealth which you may have once lived in, but this physical distancing also emotionally distances the burden and responsibility to help others from a similar background. If you are surrounded by poverty all the time, naturally you would feel compelled to do something. If you lived hundreds of miles away in a gated community of sufficient income, chances are, you’d forget.

The end result of these two, combined?

You forget about your duties to others. You become immersed in your own wealth, career success, and the security of your own family that you forget everyone else. You may make monetary donations once in a while, but time is usually not donated. And though you may have lived your own childhood in a low-income environment, once you have achieved that 5 or 6 figure income, you forgot. You paint yourself rosy memories of your childhood and the obstacles you overcame while your turn a blind-eye to those still stuck in that environment.

How am I so confident in making this claim? Because this is my own story line. Do I spend enough time with those in need? No. Why? Because I’m gasping for air chasing every next career opportunity. How is it so difficult to volunteer one Saturday each month?

What if wealthy and able individuals were legally required a specific number of community service hours each quarter? No monetary donations, just physical time commitment. Would the world be a better place? What if they were required to log hours volunteering at a charity or community project? What if they were required to log hours volunteering at a homeless shelter? Would these personal experience keep them grounded and remind them of the circumstances which still exist in the world?

The acquisition of wealth begets the desire for more wealth. Slowly you find other people’s problems not worth the time.

As I hurriedly typed these notes on my phone during the long plane ride home, I recalled an experience I had before I left a refugee camp in Bethlehem during the Summer of 2008. I met a cab driver in Nablus. He was gracious enough to invite me to his small home and introduce me to his family. He was also gracious enough to bus me around the city and show me the sites. Before I left he told me that I need to “go out, and tell the world of what I have seen.” He told me that I need to remember what I have learned and use it to help others.

I exited the airport gate at Dulles International Airport. It was overcast and rainy in Washington DC. I stepped outside, took a breath, and wrote one final note in my phone…

Arguably, one of the biggest weaknesses of the human condition is that we forget. We forget our motivational experiences and the power those experiences may have generated at one time slowly lose their steam. Indifference becomes a fixture because, well, there’s no effort required. I just hope neither you nor I forget what motivates us and we continue to work towards what is real and recognize what isn’t.

The Difference “Hangin in There” Can Make

Going through old emails to dig up information for my business school applications, I found this email I sent to a very large thread of friends, associates, and colleagues in 2010 when I was living in Minneapolis…


Hello all,

So I am making a sort of random life decision to move out of my apartment, quit my job, and move out east (west would be cool but it just seems a lot farther away). I’ve thought a lot about it, and it could either be a really really bad decision or could change the course of my life for the much better. My current job is getting me nowhere and Minneapolis is relatively depressing.

My request to you all is if you have any resources in the Technology/IT/Bus. Analyst/Consulting industry, please get in touch with me. I am currently a software engineer but trying to transition into a consulting career to help align my future goals. I can send my resume if you would like.

Thanks so much and let me keep me posted!

Thanks

That was only two years ago, I can’t believe it.

The gamble I took on moving? Well it “changed the course of my life for the much better.” Sometimes you gotta take a bold chance and let history run its course.

Finally

Carefully stepping through the dark army base dodging silhouettes of passers by, I looked up and saw what I had been anticipating since arrival here… a full moon illuminating a deep blue sea glittered with ivory. No clouds, no ambient light, you can see everything.

Considering coming back to the US next month, or the month after. Don’t quite know if I’m ready to end the adventure. I had a long discussion last night with one of the guys here on the compound, he’s been working in Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and various places in Africa for the last 6 years, according to him, “I still have a lot to see – why go back?”

Breakin Europe

DEEP BREATH

MADRID
Connected through Paris, landed in Madrid with no lodging, accommodations, or plans, saw Guernica (Picasso) at Reina Sofia, wandered the streets, scoped the Real Basilica De San Francisco, got lost, ended up found at Retiro Park and was enchanted by the sunset, broke it, snuck into a nice hotel downtown to use the facilities and get directions which worked perfectly, tapas at Tigre, saw the Royal Palace light up, roamed with eyes bloodshot and hazy streetlights through the Plaza de Oriente, Plaza Mayor, every wall in every corner tagged in rainbows, found the city center with glowing lights and fountains blasting, caught the bus to the airport, crashed in the Iberia terminal until 7am…

BARCELONA
Caught the first flight to Barcelona, cab to the hostel, lost in the Gotika markets, comida, wandered Rambla and and Catalunya, blazed the alleyways, city panorama near sunset from Park Guell, met some new friends, more tapas, went out in Rambla to enjoy the nightlife, got my heart stolen rightfully so – who forgets a name 4 times? crash, wandered the streets with headphones, hit the Muslim part of town for pastries, snapped some shots, stopped for tea, orbit La Sagrada Familia, tried Paella, tried to figure out what La Pedrera was, had chocolate churros, beach side at sunset, met some more friends, had my heart stolen by two international aide workers, wandered through crowded subways to Catalunya Square to countdown the new year with thousands of foreigners and Spaniards, 2012, got lost migrating to the beach, jumped in a cab with a Bengali and a Japanese girl that spoke 2 words of English but smiled constantly, met some new friends, attended Raul’s party in the middle of Barcelona where everyone was convinced I was a refugee lost in Spain, escaped, city centre, one place, another place, another place, sunrise onset, bid farewell to our friend Liz, jumped on a train, almost got pickpocketed at 4am, almost got in a fight with the pickpocket but instead got hit by his scarf as the train doors closed, bid farewell to the Japanese girl that spoke no English, jumped in a cab, kissed the Barcelona night sky….

PARIS
Last plane to Paris, 48 hours on foot, 4 hours of sleep, first 2012 sunrise on an airplane to France, lights out for one hour, conscious, airport, Istiaq spends 15 minutes in the bathroom sick from exhaustion as I wait in the airport cafe, I meet traveling sisters from Texas at the airport, we split a cab to coincidentally the same hostel, drop bags, exhausted, wander the Parisian streets with no energy, cobblestones and concrete, hilltop Basilica, overlook Paris, find a body laying lifeless(?) on a walking trail, hail an ambulance, stumble back into the city, jump a train, smile at Arc de Triomphe, walk the Champs Elysses, jump a train, eat a great falafel, crash, run to the Afghan Embassy to find it closed, meet an Christian evangelical that disregards me but takes an extreme liking to my Bengali travel partner, take a walking tour of Paris, heart stolen by a Brazilian, see the Mona Lisa, see the Louvres, search for the Brazilian at sunset which leads to the most beautiful bridge in Paris and the Eiffel tower, see the Eiffel tower light up at sunset, break it, Indian/Pakistani part of town for great food and sweets, meet some new friends, meet an MLB (Major League Baseball) player, watch the MLB player get into a fight, break the fight up, almost get into a fight with the MLB players friend, escape, appetizers with new friends, crash, wake up to a missing heart en route to Sao Paolo, run to Afghan Embassy for visa, hustle the staff to land a visa turned around in 2 hours (hell yeah!), crepes, coffee, Notre Dame, Mansion of Saint Chappelle, wander the Seine river, run to the train station within minutes of departure, take a seat, take a picture, headphones…

BRUSSELS
Arrive in Brussels by nightfall, break the train station, wander Belgium in the rain in search of Wifi, find the hostel, meet a friend, wander the streets, watch the city light up to a nearby accordian, find the crowded alleyways, catch Delirium, watch a man overloaded on drugs set the entire place on fire, take some pictures, meet a strange frenchman, wander back to hostel, exhausted, no sleep, crash….

I’ll have to continue later – need sleep. That trip was cray.